My suitcase is packed and I am pumped for two conferences in Italy and in Greece at which I will be presenting research with collaborators on supply chain networks in time-sensitive markets.
But before I leave for the airport, I wanted to comment on what an amazing week this has been.
Early last week, I had the privilege of being contacted by a journalist, Paul Sisson, of UT-San Diego. Sisson focuses on healthcare topics. He was writing an article for his newspaper for the Sunday Business Section on a supply chain we should all very much care about - the blood supply chain. He was wondering, since my group at the Supernetwork Center at the Isenberg School had done quite a lot of research and writing on this topic (and even teaching about it), whether I would be willing to answer some questions.
His questions were so interesting, insightful, and thoughtful, I enjoyed the process of addressing them very much.
Paul Sisson's article, "A Vital Supply Chain," is online on the newspaper website.
A pdf version is available here.
Communicating research to a journalist who is very interested in the subject is very gratifying and it also helps one to further flesh out the important aspects of the research findings and their relevance. I very much respect the important work that journalists do in keeping us informed and educated! A hearty thank you!
Journalists, working with academics, can even help to move research and education forward through appropriate and probing queries!
Although, of course, only some highlights of an interview, even even an extensive one, may actually be published in a newspaper article, the exchange stays with one. This kind of recognition is also further support of the research that we do with collaborators and with our students.
I highlight some fascinating factoids below about blood supply chains.
Think about this - The supply of human blood depends completely on volunteerism since human
blood, unlike numerous products, cannot be manufactured. The producers
of this critical needs product are humans themselves and they have to be
altruistic in their donations, effectively
giving a part of themselves to others. The great majority of blood
collection facilities in the US are managed by the Red Cross (about
45%) or by the network of US Blood Centers (about 50%) and these are
nonprofit organizations. Other suppliers of blood
are certain hospitals, usually, larger ones. The collection facilities
themselves can be either mobile or fixed. According to the American Red
Cross, over 39,000 donations are needed everyday and there have been
times when the supply was just 2 days short
of running out.
Given that the production and, hence, supply of blood is based,
primarily, to-date, on volunteers, there is uncertainty on the supply
side as well as risk - will donors show up? Both great and bad weather
days may result in insufficient donations.
Donors may go to the beach in the case of the former and may be stuck
due to a snowstorm in the case of the latter. There is also uncertainty
on the demand side since although some medical procedures are
pre-scheduled and for such procedures demand for blood
products can be more easily forecast, there are also unforeseeable
emergencies that do take place (disasters, accidents, etc.). Hence,
balancing supply and demand is a matter of life and death in this supply
chain. Of 1,700 hospitals taking part in a survey
in 2007, a total of 492 reported cancellations of elective surgeries on
one or more days due to blood shortages. Also, there are no economies of scale in "production" in this
supply chain since many of the volunteers (can) donate only 1 pint at a
time and do so, typically, in the case of repeat donors, only twice a
This blood supply chain is, in effect, a reverse supply chain.
Most products - think of cars and high tech products - are assembled by
putting distinct parts/components together to make the final product.
Whole blood, when extracted, on the other hand,
is disassembled into such components as Red Blood Cells (RBCs) and
plasma with platelets extracted through a process known as asphoresis.
Interestingly, thus, blood supply chains have commonality with reverse
supply chains as in the electronic recycling of
such products as computers and cell phones (where extraction of certain
elements can be a treasure trove). (We have done research on these
supply chains as well.)
Blood is highly perishable with the shelf life of RBCs ranging
from 35 days - 42 days, that of platelets 5 days, whereas plasma can be
frozen for up to 1 year. Therefor, there are immense time pressures on this
product; at the same time, blood must undergo
numerous steps of testing, processing, storage, and distribution to the
points of demand such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
For those of you who are interested in reading more about our research on blood supply chains, which was inspired by one of my former doctoral student's (Amir H. Masoumi's) great interest in the subject, I have highlighted papers with links below.
Supply Chain Network Operations Management of a Blood Banking System with Cost and Risk Minimization, Anna Nagurney, Amir H. Masoumi, and Min Yu, Computational Management Science 9(2): (2012) pp 205-231.
Supply Chain Network Design of a Sustainable Blood Banking System, Anna Nagurney and Amir H. Masoumi, in Sustainable Supply Chains: Models, Methods and Public Policy Implications, T. Boone, V. Jayaraman, and R. Ganeshan, Editors, Springer, London, England (2012) pp 49-72.
Also, our latest book, Networks Against Time: Supply Chains for Perishable Products, co-authored with Professor Min Yu of the University of Portland, Professor Amir H. Masoumi of Manhattan College, and Professor Ladimer S. Nagurney of the University of Hartford, provides a synthesis of some of the other fascinating supply chains, along with blood supply chains, that we have worked on that deal with perishable and time-sensitive products.